Redesigning children

It appears that schools are not well designed to meet the needs of some children. The classroom and work expectations are ones that the children cannot meet; they might even be harmful to children’s emotional development. This can be a problem for the schools and for the children who have to sit in them. The solution to that problem seems to be to keep the schools exactly as they are and redesign the children.

This article is from the New York Times; it’s called “Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School.” Here are excerpts:

“I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dr. Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”


“We as a society have been unwilling to invest in very effective nonpharmaceutical interventions for these children and their families,” said Dr. Ramesh Raghavan, a child mental-health services researcher at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert in prescription drug use among low-income children. “We are effectively forcing local community psychiatrists to use the only tool at their disposal, which is psychotropic medications.”


Dr. Anderson’s instinct, he said, is that of a “social justice thinker” who is “evening the scales a little bit.” He said that the children he sees with academic problems are essentially “mismatched with their environment” — square pegs chafing the round holes of public education. Because their families can rarely afford behavior-based therapies like tutoring and family counseling, he said, medication becomes the most reliable and pragmatic way to redirect the student toward success.

“Success”? This is success? Taking drugs to get good grades? And what do these grades actually mean? Nothing. Not a damn thing. You don’t need good grades to go to college (if that’s the route you want to take), and you don’t need good grades to become a happy, prosperous adult. We are giving children potent and dangerous drugs so they can do unnatural things like sit still and do stupid non-work exercises for meaningless points. This may well be school, but it is not education, and it is not good for children.


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3 Responses to Redesigning children

  1. Christine says:

    Im not giving my son medication to get good grades. Im giving him medication to help him make it through the day whether its a school day or the weekend, not just to sit still. Actually even on medication my son stands to eat. He very rarely sits. Im giving my son medication so he doesn’t punch his brother or even worse a stranger. Im tired of people criticizing my choice to medicate my son. Im not giving him medication because the school told me to, but rather because I had tried everything else under the sun and our family life had deteriorated. I have tried not to medicate him on the weekends but that never seems to work out well for our family. Please dont judge.

    • Oh, Christine, I couldn’t possibly judge your decisions for your son! I think there are good uses for medication like this. I just don’t think that the reasons outlined in this article — as a substitute for more appropriate services for underprivileged children, or as a way of improving the grades of children who don’t actually need this medicine — are good ones. Furthermore, I believe that diagnosing ADHD (or anything else) in children who don’t have it does a disservice to the children who *do* actually have ADHD. Overdiagnosing anything ends up rendering the actual diagnosis meaningless.

  2. Amelia says:

    Christine, I do not thing anyone is judging those families who truly need the kind of help of which you are describing. The article is clearly speaking to the idea that issues such as ADD are being over diagnosed as a way to get kids to conform and pay attention in class. I don’t think anyone would dispute that there are children who truly do need medication. I’ve actually worked with those kids in the past. I worked closely with one child and his issues were very obvious, even when medicated. You could actually watch this child physically work to control himself and see the frustration he experienced in trying to do so. There is no question in my mind that this child needed his medication.

    I’ve also worked within the school system and have seen how small children are expected to sit still for hours on end. Their recess time cut short. They can’t talk in the lunch room. They are expected to sit still and be quiet for an unreasonable amount of time. This is NOT natural. When children cannot comply, they are labeled as “bad” or “unruly” and sent for evaluation and 9 times out of 10 it is suggested by the school administration that the child might need to be medicated. This is ridiculous. We are putting children into environments that work against them.

    We homeschool–I never put my children into the system after working in it and seeing the damage it does–I personally know several homeschool families who pulled their children from school because they were diagnosed ADD or ADHD and it was suggested they be medicated. These same children flourished once they were given the freedom to MOVE. They are not problem children and they are excelling in education. They just needed a different environment to do it.

    I know five families within my own social circle who were told by the schools they should medicate their children. These are all kids I know or that I’m related to and none of them, not one, meets the criteria for ADD or ADHD. In one case the girl in question was a problem in ONE class. It was the class immediately after lunch and it was a class in which the kids were to sit and write creatively. She couldn’t sit still and was often chatty with her friends. The teacher complained and they wanted her evaluated for ADHD. This girl had no issues in any other class. But this was a class after lunch period–at a school with zero talking policy at lunch–and she was restless. Who wouldn’t be?! Plus, forcing someone to be creative is counter intuitive. Maybe that just isn’t the time of day she feels creative in that way. Yet, she is forced to sit quietly and write…after she has been in school for several hours already, sitting, working and having no outlet for socializing or moving about.

    I also agree with the notion that over-diagnosing ends up rendering the diagnosis meaningless. More and more people are starting to see what the schools are up to so that makes it that much more difficult to take a true case of ADD seriously.

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